Ed Lee's funny money

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The break on the big campaign news of the week goes to the Bay Citizen's Gerry Shih, who tracked down a couple of employees of GO Lorrie's and got them to admit that they had no idea who Ed Lee was and had given him $500 because their boss had agreed to reimburse them in cash. Now the other candidates are making an issue of it -- Dennis Herrera has called for a criminal investigation, David Chiu has issued a somewhat weaker statement and Jeff Adachi's campaign is calling the whole thing sleazy.

What makes this so interesting is not just that someone at GO Lorrie's may have been laundering contributions -- the airport shuttle company has been lobbying the city to try to change the rules around where the shuttle vans get to park. So it's not just a funky operation to push money to the mayor -- it's money from a company that has a big financial stake in a decision made by city officials (and by the way, the airport commissioners are appointed by the mayor).

Matt Dorsey, a spokesperon for Herrera's campaign, told us that "there's a point where campaign activities stop being cute and questionable and become illegal." He noted that Mayor Lee, while vowing to return the tainted money, hasn't called for a further inquiry.

"If laundered campaign contributions came to the attention of the Herrera campaign, the first person to call for an investigation would be Dennis Herrera," Dorsey said.

Chiu's statement: "These revelations raise deeply troubling questions that merit a full investigation by state authorities.  City Hall cannot be for sale.  Pay-to-play politics has no place in San Francisco, and will have no place in a Chiu administration - you can count on that."

More: “Incidents like these are a reminder of the backroom deals and crony politics that San Franciscans are sick of,” said Colin Dyer, field director for Jeff Adachi. “This is just another in a long line of questionable activities surrounding Ed Lee and his powerful special interest backers. He promised to be a different sort of mayor, Ed Lee is just more of the same.

The big question, of course, is whether this will finally start to take the edge off the Ed Lee Teflon. And that depends in part on the San Francisco Chronicle -- which put a far less relevant story about Dennis Herrera (one that didn't involve illegal money laundering) right on the front page in the lead space above the fold.

The Chron, weakened as it is, still helps define the daily news cycle in this town. But guess what? The Chron didn't break this story. The Bay Citizen did. And it there's one thing I've found to be consistent about the ol' Chron over the years is that the paper tends to ignore stories broken by the competition.

But this ought to be front-page news everywhere, not just because it's a potential felony but because it represents the side of Ed Lee that we're all worried about. In the Bad Old Days, Willie Brown's operation did stuff like this all the time. Money went in and out of shadow committees and independent expenditure groups and it was almost impossible to keep track of who was giving how much to Brown -- except that anyone who wanted to do business with the city had to pay up.

If Ed Lee's folks are starting to play those same games, then it's a very bad sign.